Stephen Schneider, Leading Climatologist, is Dead at 65

By Chris Mooney | July 19, 2010 8:40 pm

StephenSchneider-byAnnePolanskyI am stunned, because he seemed so alive and vibrant when I saw him in December 09 in Copenhagen, and in Feb 2010 at the AAAS meeting in San Diego. But Stephen Schneider, one of the greats of climate science–and climate policy, and public outreach–died today of an apparent heart attack.

There are tributes from the WWF blog, DotEarth, HuffPost, and many more. Let me quote Andy Revkin:

I first interviewed Schneider in the early 1980s while trying to make sense of the  percolating notion of nuclear winter, which Schneider — always following the data — ended up determining would more likely be a “nuclear autumn.” It was his caustic honesty about the complex nature of global warming, and the inherent uncertainties in the science, that kept mereturning to him for input from 1988 onward. He was a participant in the assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from the beginning until the last days of his life. He encouraged scientists to get out and communicate directly with the public, maintaining a Web page, “Mediarology,” describing the challenges attending such a move.

Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, says:

His biggest goal in life was to see a rational approach to policy about climate change, where he tried to evaluate the odds and show people, just like in many other decisions in life, with climate they had to play the odds. He was trying to produce probabilistic ways to make evaluations that could work. In his lifetime, his approach on this became progressively more sophisticated.

Peter Gleick says:

His clear and comprehensive explanations of climate change, his encyclopedic knowledge of how the climate works, and his challenges to the fraudulent science that characterizes the arguments of the climate deniers, made it easier for politicians to understand the true climate threats that face us and to move the debate into the public arena. That debate continues, because the science and policy challenges are complicated, but the world is at least beginning to take key steps toward preventing a climate catastrophe because Stephen Schneider knew that the alternative was unacceptable and because he worked tirelessly to move us all in the right direction.

He will be missed….


Comments (8)

  1. Sad. Earth lost a friend and great ally today.

  2. Anne Polansky

    On a sunny day in May, 2007; I was out in San Francisco and made a trip up to Stanford to have lunch with Steve, whom I’d met in 1987 when working for Congressman George Brown. We ate at a cafe across the street from the university and had a lively talk, the only kind he was capable of. I left the lunch a richer person for it, grateful I’d taken the time and made the effort. At one point, I just blurted out, do you mind if I take a few photos? This one is my favorite — I’m so glad you used it! It’s why I posted it earlier today, so that others would appreciate it as much as I do. He will be sorely missed by so many of us, as he gave us all so much of himself and that genius mind and larger-than-life heart. A great man, he left behind a great legacy that will continue on in our memories of him as we fight the good fight. My sincerest condolences to his wife Terry Root and his family.

  3. Marion Delgado

    This was stunning, in the, wait, maybe we planned on mailing him about x sense. It’s more shocking when someone who’s not at all “emeritus” suddenly is gone. He was in midstream on the most important scientific issue of our lives.

    I think his honesty will probably be one of his greatest legacies.

  4. It’s a terrible tragedy that Stephan Schneider has passed away. You can help remember him ] by contributing to his memorial website at

  5. He sure was a dynamo. Here’s a brief video of him from the Discover/NSF panel discussion on Climate Change, held at the Exploratorium in March, 2009.

  6. Marion Delgado


    Basically, this is the loss of someone in the Sagan or Gould mold – a respected scientist at the forefront of his field who was also an excellent public science communicator.

  7. A tribute to Professor Stephen H. Schneider of Stanford University…….thanks for speaking out so loudly and clearly, Steve. You will be missed.

    It appears to me that we are beginning to wrap our heads around the formidable predicament before all of us, thanks to great scientists like Steve Schneider. All of us share with him, I suppose, a passion for the study of the human condition, with particular attention paid to the colossal human-induced global predicament the human community faces in our time.

    Somehow we have to keep talking about this human-driven predicament, even if it happens to threaten leaders with vested interests in existing patterns of behavior. There is no other way forward that makes any sense to me.

    Human overpopulation of Earth is the number one problem, the proverbial “mother” of problems before the human family. It is so huge that all other global challenges, when taken together, do not present us with kind of colossal threat which is posed to us by the projected unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers fully anticipated in the next four decades. There are many ways absolute global human population numbers could be dramatically reduced, either by human action or by natural occurrence. But if we have learned nothing about the predicament we are in now, others who come after us will likely make the very same errors that bring us now to this point in human history and space-time. Just now, I am reminded of Nietzche’s idea of the “eternal recurrence”. If we choose to willfully ignore scientific evidence, reason and common sense regarding human population dynamics and human overpopulation in order to satisfy the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us who organize and manage the existing order of “life as we know it” for their own benefit primarily, then surely the colossal mistakes of the present will occur in the future, I suppose, over and over and over again. On the other hand, if top rank scientists with appropriate expertise, who have remained electively mute, speak truth to the powerful, and thereby fulfill their responsibilities to humanity and duties to science, then a chance exists for making necessary changes in the behavioral repertoire of human species leading us away from what can be seen now as unsustainable behavior and toward alternative ways of living in the world. Rightsized, human-scale business enterprises and sustainable lifestyles could become the order of the day.

    There have got to be similarly situated, top rank scientists in our planetary home who are ready now, here, to stand with Professor Stephen H. Schneider and Professor Emeritus Gary L. Peters in acknowledging the distinctly human-forced predicament confronting the human community; in overcoming the suppression of scientific evidence in silence; and in ending the collusion “underpinning” the global gag rule on open discussions of human population dynamics. We need many experts with the highest degree of skill and knowledge regarding population dynamics to speak out loudly and clearly regarding whatsoever is true to you, as best you can see and articulate what could somehow be real.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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